Our Green Careers Pathways’ Sustainability Class went on a field trip this weekend to uncover the history of West Philadelphia’s Mill Creek. The creek can be found on 19th century maps, like the one you can see here.
This creek drains more than 4000 acres of West Philadelphia with its main stem and tributaries.
Yet, this creek is no longer to be found in city limits. We did a tour with Adam Levine and Drew Browne of the Philadelphia Water Department and traveled by bus from the headwaters still above ground to the Schuylkill River near 43rd Street.
But there wasn’t much of the creek to see anymore because Mill Creek was buried in a pipe and our city was built above it!
In Montgomery County, we saw the street where the spring of the creek is buried under ground, then we went to the Overbrook station to see the small portion of the creek that is above ground, flowing in a concrete bed made by earlier city developers. Right beside the train tracks, the creek sees daylight for the last time until it comes out again in the Schuylkill River. Notice the photo of the creek headed underground.
We traveled by bus throughout West Philadelphia, and saw community gardens, developments, and former farmland and quarries that trace the line of the sewage pipe. In the best of all worlds, developments are not built on top of sewer pipes, but they were in some cases in our city and not without serious consequence. In 1961, there was a tragedy due to a sewer failure: because the sewer pipe collapsed underground, four houses also collapsed on Funston Street under private property and three people were killed.
People who were there said there was a slow roar and that you could hear the nails being pulled out of the walls as the front porch and living room of a house disappeared before their eyes.
Eventually 115 houses were condemned and demolished due to the unstable land. Our packets included a photo of some of the keys to the houses that were torn down.
We toured the area, and saw that along the diagonal stretch, there are now parks and pools, and open spaces.
Over lunch we chatted about how alternative ways to capture water and avoid run-off are essential to preventing overflow from the sewer. It was a great way to see our city, learn its history and begin to understand how connected our actions are to the city we live in.